Questioning growth in Asia

I thought this article in the NYT was very interesting: not only are some Asian economists questioning whether their countries’ economies can continue to grow at a double-digit clip, they’re questioning whether growth should even be the ultimate object of economic policy.

In considering this risk and the increasing evidence of the toll that rapid economic development is already taking on Asia’s environment, economists and other experts in Asia have taken up the call to re-examine the prominence of economic growth as a measure of policy success, particularly the use of gross domestic product.

[…]

economists … warn that even with greener development, the result may still be the same if the goal remains an American-style standard of living.

It seems to be virtually a truism that the earth can’t support a world full of people who aspire to the American standard of living, despite the fact that most of our economic and much of our foreign policy rests on the opposite assumption.

Even in developed countries, environmental thinkers like Herman Daly have argued that “growth” is no longer a suitable proxy for progress in human well-being.

Interestingly, some of the economists mentioned in the article are coming to the same conclusion:

Asia may instead need to carve out a vastly different vision of prosperity that does not rely on ever-increasing levels of material consumption.

And in what represents a bit of strange casting, some economists say the answer may lie in drawing on Asia’s religious traditions — Shinto, Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism — with their emphasis on harmony with nature and self-denial.

“Is there any commandment from the heavens that one must have one’s own swimming pool?” [economist Bhanoji] Rao said. “That one must have 10 bedrooms?”

To illustrate, he cited Mahatma Gandhi’s comment about the Earth’s providing enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.

One would like to think that for us in the West, Christianity would provide similar resources for shifting away from a growth-and-consumption-oriented lifestyle. That’s assuming it hasn’t become fatally compromised by its connivance with the economic status quo.

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